Are ‘YouTube to MP3’ Downloaders Illegal to Use?

by Paul Resnikoff

Are ‘YouTube to MP3’ Downloaders Illegal to Use

The biggest ‘YouTube to mp3’ site in the world is getting sued.  But does that mean it’s illegal to use YouTube converters, or even operate one?  DMN takes a quick look at this complex issue.

Please note: the following article deals primarily with US-based copyright law, specifically as it relates to ‘youtube to mp3’ and stream-ripping sites.  We also briefly discuss German copyright law, and will be expanding the scope of this piece to include other countries soon.  

Here are some important issues to keep in mind.

(1) YouTube itself is 100% legal to use.

You can’t commit piracy or violate a copyright by streaming anything — at any time — on YouTube.  You are completely safe here.  But is it legal to then convert YouTube videos into downloads, to be viewed later?   That remains an incredibly confusing question.

(2) YouTube says ‘stream-ripping’ is a violation of their Terms of Service (TOS).  But so far, no users have been sued or arrested for this.

Several years ago, Google and YouTube threatened to shut down the largest youtube to mp3 converter, YouTube-mp3.org.  They argued that the site was in direct violation to YouTube’s Terms of Service, which says you cannot create a system to capture a video stream.  That goes around their system, which is against their rules.

Interestingly, YouTube never prosecuted youtube-mp3.org, though they claim they blocked it from their ad network.  Fast-forward to 2016, and youtube to mp3.org is still a top Google search result.  And according to a recent music industry lawsuit, still runs Google-powered ads.

So it looks like Google really doesn’t care.  But should you?

(3) It IS illegal for users to convert copyrighted music videos into downloads.  But again, no users have been sued or arrested for this.

Again, it is completely legal to watch any video you want on YouTube, or VEVO.  But, if that video is copyrighted (which most music videos are), then it’s illegal to create a personal download of that video.  That includes an mp3, mp4, or any other download file type.

In the future, it may actually be legal to download any video from YouTube, as long as it’s for personal use.  But if a judge decides that, expect the music industry to go to war against YouTube and its converters.  The safe bet is to avoid downloading copyright works.

At this stage, we haven’t heard of one person getting sued or even contacted by the major recording labels for copyright violation.  Maybe that’s next, though the Recording Industry Association of America (or, RIAA) is currently focusing all of its energies on suing YouTube-mp3.org.

(4) It isn’t illegal to convert non-copyrighted videos into downloads in Germany.

YouTube-mp3.org was actually sued in Germany over this very issue.  They won the case, with a federal court determining that merely shifting formats is not illegal.  Think of a VHS or audio tape recorder making a personal duplication back in the 90s, and the same general principal applies.  That is why youtube-mp3.org is still around today, and one of the largest in the world.

In fact, according to SimilarWeb, youtube-mp3.org is the largest music website in the world.  It’s even bigger than SoundCloud.

(5) It IS illegal to convert copyrighted videos into downloads in Germany, the US, and many other countries.

This is very similar to downloading music from Kickass Torrents or the Pirate Bay.  Or, grabbing a download from an mp3 site like MP3Skull.  It’s a violation of copyright law, because you aren’t paying anything for it.

Also on this one, it’s amazing that no one has been arrested or even threatened for converting copyrighted videos into downloads.  That said, the music industry is just becoming aware of this piracy threat.  And we know that they are absolutely trying to bury youtube-mp3.org (and maybe a bunch of competitors as well).

(6) Why is it legal for YouTube-mp3.org and other youtube to mp3 converters to exist?

The biggest reason is that they haven’t been convicted of any crime, and might be totally legal.  But that all depends on what a judge decides.  The law is being resolved as we write this.

Currently, in the US, this is the core issue in litigation between the music industry and Youtube-mp3.org.  Music industry groups like the RIAA argue that YouTube-mp3.org is knowingly enabling piracy of copyright works.  They allege that YouTube-mp3.org is illegal circumventing technological protections against downloading, and even storing copies of copyright works on their servers for super-fast delivery of downloads.

Throughout, YouTube-mp3.org is profiting from these conversions by serving ads to users, according to the plaintiffs.  Also, there are ‘anti-circumvention’ laws that prohibit technologies from defeating protections or security.

In its defense, YouTube-mp3.org will likely argue that it has little knowledge of what YouTube files are being converted.  Even if they keep track, they don’t know until after the fact.  How do they know it’s Beyonce, and not a baby video?  That will be a major area of debate in the coming months.

(7) Why isn’t it illegal to stream music for free on YouTube then?

The reason is that copyright owners have permitted it, and it’s also permitted under a US-based law called the DMCA (and another variation in Europe).  Under that law, YouTube is merely required to remove an unauthorized video if they are alerted to its presence by the lawful copyright owner.

The industry actually actually hates that law, but YouTube (and Google) have spend tens of millions (or more) to protect it.  The music industry thinks Google is abusing a loophole, while Google says it balances the needs of everyone.  But YouTube also says that its ContentID system makes it easy to prevent certain videos from getting uploaded in the first place (though the industry says this system doesn’t work).

Essentially, a lot of people are suing one another for control over copyright.  Google wants free rein, the industry unsurprisingly does not.  So, stay tuned for more developments in this fight.  But, for the average user, none of this matters.  Nobody is going to sue you for using YouTube.

But ‘Youtube to mp3’ converters?  That may become a problem in the coming months, with a few enforcement surprises ahead.

Be careful out there.

Leave a Comment